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Fa├žade [1975, Chicago]

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Video Identifier: V.2011-05-0448
Run Time
0h 18m 16s
Date Produced
"Façade" is a ballet choreographed by Frederick Ashton to music composed by William Walton. Its one act of seven to ten divertissements is based on the 1923 avant-garde performance work "Façade -- An Entertainment" by Walton and Edith Sitwell. Ashton's ballet was premiered by the Camargo Society at the Cambridge Theatre in London on April 26, 1931. The ballet has since been revived by ballet companies all over the world, including the Chicago Ballet in October of 1975. This Chicago Ballet version was staged by Richard Ellis and Christine Du Boulay.

This video represents a rehearsal of the ballet in practice clothes, presumably prior to its October 1975 Chicago premiere. 
The video begins with a dark shot of a single dancer posed in the center of a ballet studio. After the music plays for a few moments, two more dancers join him from the sides. All three stand posed with their arms up before breaking into a series of quick coupé steps, traveling forward and then back. (This seems to be the "Scotch Rhapsody" number from the ballet.) The trio then continues into a fast-paced ensemble dance, often grabbing hold of each other as they travel around the stage. The three complete their variation with a final kneeling pose; after holding it for a moment, they rise, bow, and run "offstage."

The video then cuts to the next number, which also begins with a single individual at center. This female dancer (as milkmaid?) then scurries about while carrying a stool, eventually sitting on it. Meanwhile, a group of three male dancers (as mountaineers?) enters behind her and makes their way over to the stool. (This is, presumably, the "Jodelling Dance" number.) They surround the milkmaid and then join her for an ensemble segment performed while kneeling--a great deal of clapping and slapping is involved. When the four stand up again, the milkmaid ascends her stool and the three mountaineers each grab one of her appendages, after which they slowly dance around her, spinning her as they go. Next, they lift her up, shift her weight around, and swing her between them on the stool. In their next position, they appear to be miming the milking activity (while one mimes drinking from his cap?) and the female dancer kisses one of the male dancers. Then, they begin to exit much as they entered, in a row. For the final pose, the milkmaid hops down and rests an elbow on the stool/the three mountaneeirs pause in their exiting to strike a pose as well. All four dancers then bow and exit.

The video then cuts to the third number (the "Polka"), which also begins with a single female dancer entering from the back. She dances a lighthearted, at times flirtatious solo before curtsying, pretending to grab a lost clothing item (her skirt?), and exiting.

Next, the video cuts to the fifth number ("Popular Song;" the video appears to have skipped the fourth number, "Valse"). Two men enter from the side and perform a sort of balletic mockery of a buddy vaudeville act. The wear boater hats and do a number of kicks, usually reserved for female music hall dancers. They lift their hats in their final pose, before bowing and exiting while shaking their boater hats. They then return to stage, bow again, and exit off the other side while 'shuffling off to Buffalo.'

The video then cuts to the sixth number ("Tango-Pasodoble"). A male dancer enters, soon joined by a female dancer. The two stand close together, extend their legs, and begin to dance a tango. Several bars into their dance, three more couples enter behind them and dance a simpler version of the tango before once again exiting. The main couple continues, slowing down for a more sensual section, and then intensifying their steps. The male dancer completely flips over the female dancer and continues dancing with her, even as she seems to be (exaggeratedly) disoriented. Before long, they complete their tango by jumping into a kneel for their final pose, and then break character and begin walking away without bowing. 

The video then cuts to a shot of a man seated in a chair--perhaps Richard Ellis as rehearsal director?  A few seconds later, it cuts back to a view of the dance studio where another number (apparently "Foxtrot," which Ashton added in 1940). A couple enters doing an exaggerated foxtrot around the "stage," followed by a second couple doing the same. The two couples converge at center and continue dancing with exaggerated steps and kicks from the famous dance. Eventually, they finish it kneeling in a row; they then stand, bow, and exit like the rest before them. 

The video then cuts to another number, beginning with four dancers standing in a cluster at center. They launch into an ensemble dance, moving through various patterns and shapes on the stage. (This number appears to be "Valse," originally the fourth divertissement in the ballet). They complete the number laying in a row on the ground, kicking their legs up on the last note. They then pas de chat 'offstage' in groups of two. 

The video then cuts to the ballet's "Finale -- Tarantella Sevillana" number. After the music begins, three dancers jog 'onstage' and perform a petite allegro ensemble dance at center. They then scurry offstage and bring many more dancers with them; in sum, nine couples enter stage and dance together. One central couple emerges and dances distinct choreography while the rest perform an ensemble dance behind them. The rest then kneel while the central couple continues their dance; afterwards, the group stands and forms a revolving windmill that the lead couple weaves through. (During this sequence, the video camera tilts so that it is not parallel with the ground.) The group once again splits into couples, all led in a dance by the central couple in the front. Finally, all race to various final poses, with the lead couple sliding into the center. The dancers then break character and the video ends. 
Additional Credit
Ashton, Frederick (is choreographer)
Du Boulay, Christine (is contributor)
Ellis, Richard (is contributor)
Walton, William (is composer)
Related Place
Chicago (production location of)